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Hurdle optimistic Bucs can make division run

Nicasio available out of bullpen after dealing with arm fatigue
MLB.com

MILWAUKEE -- Manager Clint Hurdle is hopeful the Pirates can gain ground in a tight race in the National League Central.

In fact, he thinks the Pirates' four-game intradivision set against the Brewers at Miller Park is the perfect opportunity to do so. Pittsburgh got off to a good start in Milwaukee, taking the first game of the series, 8-1.

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MILWAUKEE -- Manager Clint Hurdle is hopeful the Pirates can gain ground in a tight race in the National League Central.

In fact, he thinks the Pirates' four-game intradivision set against the Brewers at Miller Park is the perfect opportunity to do so. Pittsburgh got off to a good start in Milwaukee, taking the first game of the series, 8-1.

View Full Game Coverage

"I'm glad it's happening right now," Hurdle said ahead of the opener. "It's a great opportunity for us and where we are in the season to come and play the first-place team in four games. Wonderful."

With the win Monday, the Pirates moved percentage points ahead of the idle Cardinals for third place in the NL Central. They trail the first-place Brewers by five games and are 1 1/2 games ahead of the last-place Reds. Hurdle compared the division -- the tightest division in the NL at this point in the season -- to a horse race, and he hopes the Pirates can be the one to break out from the group.

"Nobody has planned it out to play below .500 baseball, and we've got every team but one now doing it in the division. We've got one .500 and one above," Hurdle said before the second-place Cubs won Monday to improve to 35-34. "Just trying to find our way. It's like one of those races you see. Everybody starts off, they stay kind of jumbled and somebody is looking to make or break at some point in time."

Video: PIT@MIL: Hurdle discusses Cole's stellar outing

The Pirates haven't historically fared well at Miller Park, but Monday's victory makes them winners of seven of their last eight games in Milwaukee. Last season, they took six of 10 from the Crew at Miller Park, and they will look to build on that margin with Andrew McCutchen and Gregory Polanco heating up at the plate.

McCutchen is now on a nine-game hitting streak after going 2-for-5 with a home run -- his 29th career dinger against the Brewers -- and three RBIs. His 29 home runs against Milwaukee are second most among all opposing players in MLB behind Jay Bruce. Polanco's production has dialed back recently, but he hit his first homer since May 28 on Saturday vs. the Cubs. On Monday, he went 2-for-5 with an RBI and run scored.

Nicasio's availability

Reliever Juan Nicasio's availability was in question for Sunday's finale against the Cubs because of arm fatigue, but there was no doubt on Monday. Hurdle said Nicasio is no longer feeling fatigued, and Pirates trainers did not identify any further symptoms.

"For whatever reason, I think pitchers can feel certain things at different times. We've gotten to a pretty good place where our guys feel something different, they'll tell the trainer," Hurdle said. "The trainers tried to monitor it. They couldn't come up with anything structurally to say it's this. So that's what I got for you. Today was better than yesterday."

Carson Mason is a reporter for MLB.com based in Milwaukee and covered the Pirates on Monday.

Pittsburgh Pirates, Juan Nicasio